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Web site creates marketplace for free-lancers

Executives from free-lance job firm eLance say they want to put an East Coast spin on the online job hunting market.

Executives from free-lance job firm eLance say they want to put an East Coast spin on the online job hunting market.

eLance, which lets free-lancers bid on jobs posted by potential employers, is set up similarly to a trading floor, with eLance employees stepping in to facilitate trades, make sure they are completed, and stimulate demand or supply as needed to ensure liquidity of the market.

Srini Anumolu, who before founding eLance was a portfolio manager trading bonds on Wall Street, and his partner, fellow Wall Street graduate and "chief eLancer" Beerud Sheth, are after more than atmosphere with their model for job hunting.

"We wanted to recreate the kind of excitement you find on a trading floor," Anumolu said. "When I first walked into the Salomon Bros. trading desk, there were hundreds of people sitting row after row on the phone, with clocks on the wall giving the time in cities around the world, and ticker tapes giving the latest quotes.

"You could feel the energy coming into the room. So we didn't want an office of standard cubicles," he said.

eLance has attracted attention this week as the entire company moves from its cramped office in a New Jersey one-bedroom apartment to a 20,000 square foot warehouse space in Sunnyvale, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. The company made the move to be closer to tech talent; it plans to boost its staff from 20 to 70 in the next three months.

In addition to entering a valley swarming with workers, eLance is entering a market crowded with competition.

Other sites that connect free-lance workers with employers include FlexMind.com, Monster.com and FreeAgent.com. Guru.com offers free-lancers job-matching, products, services and content. The company today said it had nailed down $16 million in its second round of financing, led by Greylock and August Capital.

When traffic picks up for eLance, the site plans to monitor the going rate for services, letting users know, for example, that Java programming is selling for $100 per hour.

"It will be a while before we get enough traffic to do that," said Anumolu.

Once traffic does grow, it will bring its own set of challenges. In its early stages, eLance can monitor and close deals on an individual basis. But if the site grows as fast and as big as it hopes, it may lose that personal touch.

"I don't know how much we can scale," Anumolu said. "If it becomes an eBay, that's going to be an issue."

Anumolu said his engineers are at work on systems that will automate some of the so-called market-making tasks, such as making sure job descriptions are detailed, user profiles are complete, and job market demands are met.